Every four years the massive security apparatus that protects Washington DC, from a network of surface-to-air missile systems to the Secret Service, to the Capitol Police gear up for one of America’s most celebrated and important political spectacles—the peaceful handover of executive power. Executing inauguration day safely is a gargantuan undertaking, especially in this age of rapidly morphing threats and extreme political polarization. It takes an army of dedicated and highly-skilled security professionals, and a ton of technology, to pull it off successfully—both of which are on display in this crazy Gigapixel image snapped just as Donald Trump was giving his inaugural speech on the steps of the Capitol.
Beyond its extreme resolution ultra-wide angle, the image is incredible for a multitude of reasons. It tells so many little stories at one time—you can make out all the VIP attendees facing the camera, and the facial expressions of the crowd below, including where they were looking while the 45th President of the United States addressed the world for the first time. Beyond that you can see all the different pieces that make up the inauguration, from the military band to the media. You can even see where networks like CNN set up broadcast locations high above the Mall. Pennsylvania Avenue is also visible in the huge stitched image, which at the time was being prepped for the Presidential Motorcade to roll along it. It would be there that the first family would exit their armored cocoons and walk along the famous thoroughfare while waving to onlookers, all the while surrounded by a phalanx of Secret Service agents.
If you look hard enough, the image also tells at least a portion of the story of how such a high-profile, high-risk and highly-attended event like this goes off without a hitch. Scanning the crowd you can see a multitude of Secret Service agents planted in key locations. Uniformed law enforcement is also highly visible, even among the pre-screened masses. Maybe most impressive is what you see when you look up from the action below. The rooftops are dotted with security agents and electronic surveillance gear of all types. Pretty much every aerial or pole around the Mall, some of them temporary in nature, is covered in cameras and other electronic gear, some of which is not readily identifiable.
When viewing the image at this level, it is an eye-watering testament to the degree of surveillance deployed for the event and around the Capital Mall in general—literally an army of eyes, and probably ears as well, either scanning the environment through lenses or electro-optical devices, all in an attempt to stop trouble before it starts.
You can compare this image to the gigapan photo from Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. As you can see, the presence of electronic surveillance has increased significantly over the last eight years. Just for fun, here’s another cool gigapan showing the White House and the west side of Washington DC from the top of the Washington Monument point-of-view. From this angle the complexity of the security environment surrounding the White House is pretty clear, and it underlines why the Secret Service has requested a mock-up of the White House for training purposes.
Some hoped that a new Presidential Limousine, often referred to as “The Beast,” would be unveiled at this inauguration, as it has become something of a tradition over the last couple of decades to do so. Sadly that didn’t happen. As it turns out the new heavily armored executive transports will be unveiled a bit later in the year. Still, the time during inauguration day when the Presidential Motorcade is showcased, as well as the most visible show of force by the Secret Service, still had its own strangely exciting moment—well at least among some in the defense, security and even the conspiracy crowds, as well as on social media.
One of the agents assigned to the President’s car during the motorcade’s crawl down Pennsylvania Avenue struck some eagle-eyed viewers as peculiar. The agent, who looked like he was right from Hollywood central casting, with a bald head, chiseled features and piercing eyes, was seen holding his hands in the same somewhat odd position for very long periods of time as he made the long walk to the White House.
This combined with the man’s oversized trench coat made many think his arms and hands were actually prosthetics. In all honesty, at first it actually looked like that may be the case, although I just couldn't believe it. After examining the video closely it is clear that this highly trained agent was just extremely consistent in his readiness posture, with has hands moving only occasionally to adjust his coat and reset themselves in the same position.
The placement the man’s hands are seen in is often referred to as the “interview position” (or interview stance when the person is standing still) in tactical and law enforcement circles. It is designed to keep one’s hands at the ready above their gun belt while still looking unassuming but in control. In this case, the posture also helps keep the agent’s coat from blowing open, potentially brandishing what’s underneath.
It can be assumed that a portion of the agents walking alongside the motorcade were sporting automatic rifles, such as short-barreled CAR-15s derivatives, or personal defense weapons (PDWs), such as the P90, under their oversized overcoats. As such, you can see why such a position would be ideal for the situation. Within a blink of an eye the agent could bring his weapon to bear on the bad guys, keeping them out of range and providing cover for the President to be evacuated safely by his personal detail.
In the end the security balet that is a Presidential Inauguration is truly an amazingly well coordinated dance. From the F-16 pilot flying a combat air patrol high over the region, to the secret service agent checking the manhole covers on the street before the motorcade travels down it—not to mention all the intelligence agents that keep track on potential threats—everyone works together to make the event memorable for the right reasons.
As I have said many times before, the Secret Service in particular does a near superhuman job at keeping the President and those around him, including onlookers, safe from harm. Watching them work is just fascinating, they make it seem all too easy. Few other jobs are tasked with getting it right 100% of the time, or with such massive implications mixed with great risk. If anything, pictures like the Gigapixel image from Friday just give us a tiny glimpse into just how daunting a task they and the entire joint force that provides security for the Capital Region have before them.
What interesting bits can you find in Friday's Gigpixel image? Let's see some screen grabs below in the comments section.
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